Costa Rica Travel Guide
Costa Rica is a picture-perfect country. Pictures taken from the country often seem too good to be real but they are. From pristine beaches to steaming volcanoes, kaleidoscopic sunsets, beautiful and inquisitive wildlife, and exotic flora, there's a lot of fun to be had in the Central American country.
Compared to other countries in the region, Costa Rica is a bit expensive. But even the most conscious budget traveler will have a good time in the country with proper planning.
As with any other destination, there's the problem of figuring out the best places to visit in Costa Rica and that's what this article is all about. If you love nature and enjoy the outdoors, Costa Rica has several attractions waiting for you to discover and explore them. Just remember to bring your trusty camera along.
Capital city: San José
Currency: Costa Rican Colón (CRC). 1 USD = 620.58 CRC.
Electricity: Power voltage is 120 Volts. Power sockets type A and B.
Languages: Spanish is the official and most widely spoken language.
10 Handpicked Highlights of Costa Rica
Tortuguero National Park
Tortuguero promises thick rainforest, abundant and diverse wildlife, Amazonesque canals, and a wide variety of flora. People that love being close to nature will love Tortuguero. The Tortuguero National Park is waiting patiently to be explored as well as the beautiful beach in the area. Canoe tours are also popular attractions in the area.
There are multiple opportunities to relax and unwind especially when you book a tour although some travelers don’t like the “down time”.
One of Costa Rica’s most popular and iconic volcanoes, travelers and adventure seekers troop to the Poas Volcano to get a glimpse of its majesty. While the highlight of any visit to the volcano is to get a peek at the crater and its stunning blue lake, this isn’t always possible as the crater sometimes get hidden behind a thick layer of clouds.
While it’s a day trip to Poás Volcano, you can consider spending a few days in the area to explore the nearby town of Vara Blanca with it’s beautiful waterfalls, mountains, and strawberry farms.
Monterverde Cloud Forest
Monteverde is one of the best places to see a cloud forest in Costa Rica. The cloud forests in the region are unique and considering that they may disappear sometime in this century, it’s worth visiting them at least once.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest is also a great place to spot birds thanks to its diverse wildlife. There are also several hiking trails for you to explore the forests. Extreme ziplining is a popular activity there and there’s a lot of fun to be had speeding across the evergreen forest on a zipline at great speeds.
Osa Peninsula and Corcovado National Park
The road to Osa Peninsula can be long and challenging for the average tourist. But those willing to make the trip will be rewarded with one of the most untouched places on earth and a more genuine travel experience.
National Geographic labeled the Osa Peninsula as “the most biologically intense place on earth”, so you can expect to spot lots of wildlife and flora there. Corcovado National Park was established to protect the flora and fauna of the region. Your best chance of seeing the numerous wildlife that roams the park is to book a tour.
Arenal Volcano National Park & Laguna de Arenal
If exploring a rainforest and seeing an active volcano up close sound like a good idea, then you should visit the Arenal Volcano National Park. There are several well-maintained hiking trails for tourists to explore the rainforest and you don’t have to be in top fitness to hike as the trails are relatively easy.
There are so many great bird-watching opportunities year-round and you get to see a giant Ceiba tree. Entrance fee to the park is relatively inexpensive and you can see most of the attractions in a day making a day-trip worthwhile.
Apart from visiting the National Park, there are several outdoor activities you can participate in at Arenal such as going ATV riding, canyoning, caving, and enjoying hot springs.
Braulio Carrillo National Park
One of the most extensive national parks in Costa Rica, Braulio Carrilo is blessed with lush green primeval forests, rugged high mountains, ethereal waterfalls, meandering rivers, two extinct volcanoes, and a stunning cloud forest. Braulio Carrilo is a heaven and paradise for nature lovers.
The wildlife and plane diversity in the park is also stunning. There are more than 500 bird species, over 6000 plant species, and over 135 animal species. Eagles, monkeys, toucans, and jaguars are common sights at the park.
Irazú volcano is the highest volcano in Costa Rica. It’s also one of the most active volcanoes having erupted more than 20 times since 1723. I like how easy it is to reach this giant volcano especially by car although you’ll have to hike a considerable distance to the crater. Fortunately, the trail up the mountain is in good condition.
The drive to the volcano is interesting in itself as you’ll see beautiful plants on your way. And when you get to the mountain, you are guaranteed to see at least two of the four craters on the mountain.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Manual Antonio National Park is one of Costa Rica’s most popular sights. The park is relatively small allowing you to explore all it has to offer in a day. From a tropical forest filled with diverse flora and fauna like monkeys and birds to mangroves, and a beautiful beach, there’s a lot to enjoy in the park. There are also a couple of well-maintained hiking trails in the park.
Due to the easy accessibility of Manuel Antonio, the park tends to be crowded during weekends. So, it may be a good idea to avoid visiting the park at this time if you want to beat the crowd.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens
The La Paz Waterfall Gardens offers a bit of everything to tourists. There are several hiking trails, diverse wildlife, and of course several waterfalls. I’m partial to the waterfalls (there are five of them in La Paz) as I think they are the top attractions in the gardens. But there is a lot of nature in the park for your enjoyment.
Jaguars, puma, sloths, spider monkeys, and ocelots are some of the wildlife easily seen at the park. The waterfalls are open all day long and it will take you about a day to explore the entire garden making day trips feasible for tourists short on time.
Rincón de la Vieja National Park
Rincón de la Vieja doesn’t get as much attention or visitors as some of the other popular national parks in Costa Rica. But the park has its own charms and offers nature lovers a chance to explore the outdoors.
In the heart of the park is the active Rincón de la Vieja volcano from which the park gets its name. Have fun exploring the volcano and the sea of leafy green canopies and colorful orchids. Dining is available at the garden as well as on-site lodging for visitors that wish to spend a night or two at the Park.
Costa Rica's Geography & Landscapes
Costa Rica can be divided into six geographical regions namely:
- The Central Valley.
- The Northern Lowlands.
- The Central Pacific.
- The North Pacific.
- The Caribbean Coast.
- The South Pacific.
The landscape of Costa Rica comprises of over 200 active and extinct volcanoes, several tropical beaches, steep mountains, cloud forests, mangroves, swamps, lakes, and thunderous waterfalls.
Also read: Which Side of Costa Rica is Better? (Caribbean Coast vs. Pacific Coast).
Best Time To Go To Costa Rica
Costa Rica is warm all year round. However, the most stable weather is between December and April where there is little to almost no rainfall. This period is unsurprisingly the peak tourist period as the stable weather is perfect for exploring Costa Rica’s beaches and rainforests. If you intend to visit the Central American country during this period, you need to make all bookings in advance since things fill up fast.
If you want to beat the crowd or visit the country when things are cheaper, you can visit during the rainy season which is from May to November. Expect short bursts of rain during this period although the temperature will still be quite warm. The rain tends to decrease around June and July, so you may plan your visit around this time.
Also read: When is The Worst Time to Visit Costa Rica? (And When to Go Instead?)
Traveling in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is one of the safest countries in Central America and the political situation in the country is quite stable. Petty crime is common in the major countries and you should avoid flashing or showing off your valuables to avoid being a target.
The standard safety tips that I recommend to anyone visiting other countries apply here.
- Stay away from drugs.
- Don’t go anywhere alone at night.
- Don’t accept drinks from strangers and don’t leave drinks unattended at bars.
- Don’t carry original documents around. Make photocopies and keep originals in a safe in your hotel room.
- Keep an eye on your stuff when you visit a beach.
- Carry just about the amount of cash you need.
- Don’t use ATMs at night.
- Purchase good travel insurance.
- And most importantly, if you won’t do it at home, don’t do it in Costa Rica.
Getting to & Around Costa Rica
The most popular mode of entry into Costa Rica is by air through one of its two international airports near San Jose (Juan Santamaría International Airport) and the northern city of Liberia (Daniel Oduber Quiros international airport). Tourists short on time can choose to fly within the country with Sansa and NatureAir being the two major domestic airlines.
Some people choose to enter the country by bus from one of its neighboring countries.
Buses are the most common and cheapest way of getting around. The public bus system is excellent and frequently plies some of the remote areas. Private-owned mini buses are also available and tend to be faster than public buses, although they are more expensive.
Car rentals are somewhat affordable and are a great way to see the country at your own pace. However, the roads aren’t in the best condition and you are better off going with public transportation.
Budget hostels are available for the budget-conscious traveler. Many hostels also have private rooms and free breakfast is usually offered to all visitors.
Hotels are available at several prices and you only need to choose one within your budget. You can expect basic amenities like AC and TV from budget hotels while you can expect more amenities from luxurious hotels.
Airbnb is available in the country and the price depends on location and the type of apartment or home you are paying for.
Camping is available almost throughout the country and you’ll have to pay for a basic plot. If you want electricity, you’ll have to pay extra. Wild camping is illegal and unsafe.